Few parks have the intimate family appeal that Kooser State Park holds in abundance. Located in the heart of the Laurel Highlands, at an altitude of 2,600 feet, Kooser has 250-acres of forest to explore.
Kooser State Park was the result of one of many Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) projects of the 1930s. 4-acre Kooser Lake was created by damming Kooser Run, a high quality trout stream that flows the length of the park.
The park was name in honor of John Kooser, who in 1867, settled near Kooser Spring, in what is today, the western edge of the park.
Prior to Kooser’s arrival in the area, local legend has it that an American Indian battle took place near Kooser Run. This has been proven true by the large number of war arrows and spearheads found in the area.
A contingent of Washington’s Army, known as Coxes Army, crossed Laurel Summit near here during the Whiskey Rebellion of the late eighteenth century.
A favorite of anglers, Kooser Lake is stocked with trout, bass, and blue gill.
Crystal clear Kooser Run is stocked with brook trout.
A 350-foot swimming beach and playground lie along the lake. Swimming is permitted between Memorial Day and Labor Day.
Although Kooser does not have many hiking trails, it’s still worth the trip. We made a 3-mile loop around the park, starting on the Kincora Trail.
The Kincora Trail is a one-mile, out-and-back trail named in honor of Father Kincora, an Irish priest. It has likely deceived many hikers with its flat start that rapidly ascends up into the forest.
The second-growth forest is a mix of deciduous trees and rhododendrons. Mossy boulders flank the path. At the crest of the hill, you have a sweeping view of the valley and lake below.
We were fortunate enough to have the entire trail to ourselves. The tranquility of the birdsong echoing through the forest was occasionally interrupted from the passing traffic along 31.
The end of the trail can be flooded with water runoff from the surrounding hillside. Although mud exists, it is easily avoidable.
At the end of the trail, we walked along the main road to the lake and dam. Kooser Lake is a popular spot for family picnics.
We continued our hike alternating along the main road and Kooser Run back to the trailhead of the Kincora Trail.
After departing Kooser State Park, we spent the rest of the day exploring nearby waterfalls. Our first stop was at Laurelville Mennonite Church to see Jacobs Creek Falls. We were disappointed to discover that this is not a natural waterfall.
Freeman Falls, a private waterfall on Jacobs Creek that is best seen from the Pennsylvania Turnpike, was a risky gamble. A sign posted above the falls gives access to fish. We hoped it would be okay to “fish for waterfalls”. We were respectful of the landowner’s privacy and did not stay long. Judging by the no trespassing signs and watchful neighbors, visitors are not encouraged. It was difficult to get a head-on shot of the falls without encroaching on the neighbors’ property. The best vantage point to see the falls is from the turnpike.
Connellsville has several waterfalls, including Connell Run Falls, double waterfalls on Connell Run.
Our last stop for the day was at Robinson Falls on Opossum Creek. Robinson Falls was the site of the first recorded geological description of any part of Pennsylvania. The waterfall was first discovered by George Washington’s geographer, Robert Erksine, in 1777, and named after James Robinson, who may have operated a mill and distillery near the falls. The rock ledge above the waterfall is part of the Catawba Indian Warpath, which ran from North Carolina to New York.